Whole Food Center
Your typical Facebook conversation about GMOs.
Please hold your pitchforks and torches unti the end.
A good place to start in any discussion is to have an agreed upon definition of what is being talked about. We’re going to lay out a few definitions, so you know exactly what we are referring to in this article and in the entire whole food center, when we talk about GMOs.
1. GMO: “An organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering.”
2. Genetics: "The development and application of scientific methods, procedures, and technologies that permit direct manipulation of genetic material in order to alter the hereditary traits of a cell, organism, or population."
3. Genetic Engineering: "A technique that produces unlimited amounts of otherwise unavailable or scarce biological product by introducing DNA isolated from animals or plants into bacteria and then harvesting the product from a bacterial colony."
Now that we're all clear on these, let's get started.
Truth in labeling
Before we go any further, let us define what non-GMO means to Rooted Nutrition.
Rooted Nutrition believes that for a product to be non-GMO, there should be no GMOs involved in the entire process of growing a crop or making a product. That means from seed to harvested crop or finished product, no GMOs should be involved.
Since there is no regulated definition of the term "non-GMO", we will be using the Rooted Nutrition definition of non-GMO here on out. For example, if a vitamin is made by bacteria in a lab and the bacteria have been genetically modified, or are fed GMO corn, the final refined and purified vitamin would test negative for any traces of GMO proteins- yet it was made with GMOs. Rooted Nutrition would say that this product should not be labeled non-GMO, because GMOs were involved at some point in the process.
Right now, there is no requirement in the United States that companies label their product if it is produced using GMOs. We are not going to get into the laws of other countries, we are just going to focus on US laws. That being said, the terms "non-GMO" and various symbols have been popping up on various products because many people want to know if their products have been made with GMOs.
Rooted Nutrition firmly believes in truth in labeling. If a company wants to state that their products are non-GMO or made without GMOs they should be able to- so long as it's the truth. However, because there is currently no regulation of the term non-GMO, many products are carrying these terms or seals on their labels, yet they have actually been made with GMO-ingredients.
Harmful or beneficial?
Are GMOs a benefit or a harm? The truth is somewhere in between, as it usually is. While GMOs are used in a wide variety of industries, we are just going to focus on two of them- food and medicine.
Let’s start with an item in medicine where genetic modification has saved many, many lives: insulin. Currently, insulin is produced by bacteria that have been genetically modified to produce human insulin. You can go here to learn more about the how and why of this. Type 1 diabetics need insulin to survive. Before the invention of GMO insulin, things were not so good on the insulin front.
"The first injection of the pancreatic extract to a 14-year-old boy by Banting and Best on January 11, 1922, caused a sterile abscess, had no effect on ketosis, and resulted in mild blood glucose reduction."
Then it started to become commercially available from animal pancreas:
"Eli Lilly began producing insulin from animal pancreas but fell short of the demand, and the potency varied up to 25% per lot."
There was simply no way to keep up with demand and when dealing with type one diabetes, 25% potency variance is going to lead to some real problems.
Then the first GMO insulin was produced:
"In 1978, the first recombinant DNA human insulin was prepared by David Goeddel and his colleagues (of Genentech) by utilizing and combining the insulin A- and B- chains expressed in Escherichia coli. Thereafter, Genentech and Lilly signed an agreement to commercialize rDNA insulin. In 1982, the first insulin utilizing rDNA technology, Humulin® R (rapid) and N (NPH, intermediate-acting), were marketed."
Having a consistent and pure supply of insulin has reduced complications from type 1 diabetes and helped to save millions of lives. This is definitely something we all should be celebrating!
Some animals need insulin as well, so our furry friends are gonna celebrate with us.
In medicine, while not all rainbows and unicorns, I think we can safely say GMOs have had some great benefits.
Let's move on to the area of farming and GMO foods. Here is the current list of GMO crops and animals that are allowed to be sold in the United States (There are currently test plots for other foodstuffs like wheat, but they have not yet been approved for human consumption):
Summer squash (like zucchini and yellow squash, not the winter ones like acorn and butternut)
Apples that do not brown
There were varieties of the following GMO crops approved for use in the US, but for a variety of reasons they are currently not being grown:
This article lists all the different varieties of GMO crops in the United States and the companies that own them, some still grown and some not.
GMO food advocates claim that:
"Using Resources Efficiently: Some GMO corn crops can protect harvests in water-limited conditions better than conventionally produced crops. Other GMOs can also promote the use of no-till farming, which keeps more moisture in the soil. No-till also enables farmers to make fewer passes through the field using machinery, which means less fuel used and greenhouse gases emitted.
Fighting Pests and Disease: Scientists are developing crops that look and taste the same as their non-GMO counterparts, but are resistant to insects and plant-specific diseases that can impact a farmer’s harvest. Plants with traits that protect roots from insect damage have an additional benefit of using water more efficiently.
Conserving Natural Habitats: GMO seeds can help farmers around the world meet the increasing demand for food by helping them make the most of their existing arable land, thus enabling them to preserve nearby habitats"
These things all sound amazing and if true, would revolutionize agriculture and the future of food. The first thing to do when evaluating these claims is to look for research and studies that were not funded by companies or persons with a vested or financial interest in the outcome. We want to look at independent research. It was not easy to find.
Does the use of GMOs reduce the need for herbicides? The short answer is, "No."
Does the use of GMOs create superweeds that are resistant to many herbicides? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, yes. And they offer a solution: "Herbicide use could be reduced by more than 90 percent—while maintaining or increasing farmers’ yields and profits—through practices based on the principles of ecological science."
Do GMO crops produce higher yields than other methods? Independent data from the UN and a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences showed little evidence that GMO crops had led to yield gains beyond conventional crops, while at the same time herbicide use in the regions using GMO seeds was up over 20%. In a “shock”, industry funded research showed amazing benefits. It’s almost like they had an agenda.
Are GMOs better for family farms? According to Farm Aid, a group who seeks to help family farmers, the answer is a resounding no.
They state that, "The 'big four' seed companies – Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow – own 80% of the corn and 70% of the soybean market. This concentration has made a huge dent in farmers’ pockets. USDA data shows that the per-acre cost of soybean and corn seed spiked dramatically between 1995 and 2014, by 351% and 321%, respectively. The only reason we have not seen food prices rise along with the price of seeds, is the government subsidies given to farmers who grow crops like corn and soy, which artificially keeps the price lower."
Another problem is GMO contamination:
"GMO contamination is well documented. According to the International Journal of Food Contamination, almost 400 cases of GMO contamination occurred between 1997 and 2013 in 63 countries. Part of the problem is the very nature of nature. Many plants are pollinated by insects, birds or wind, allowing pollen from a GMO plant to move to neighboring fields or into the wild. This “genetic drift” illustrates the enormous difficulty in containing GMO technology. Not only is genetic drift impossible to prevent, inadequate regulation also fails to hold seed companies accountable for any resulting damages and ultimately puts the onus on farmers who have been the victims of contamination."
Farm Aid offers some solutions:
"There is no silver bullet for the numerous and complex challenges farmers face on their farms. In a time of mounting problems like climate change and market concentration, technology should expand the tools available to farmers, not restrict them. That’s why Farm Aid calls for:
Fair and affordable access to seeds and the right for farmers to save seeds;
Increased funding for public plant and animal breeding to develop locally and regionally adapted seed and breed varieties.
Antitrust enforcement in the highly concentrated private seed sector;
Biotech companies to be held accountable for GMO contamination; and
Stronger independent review and oversight of GMO crops and animals prior to their approval and following their release into the environment and marketplace.
Rooted Nutrition 100% supports those recommendations.
Do GMOs pose a risk to native species in the wild? GMO salmon was approved for consumption in the US in 2015 and on Friday, March 8, 2019 the FDA announced that it would lift the import ban that had temporarily stopped the import and sale of GMO salmon in the US. But, GMO salmon may actually pose a huge and dangerous risk to the environment. "Escape by these salmon into marine ecosystems would pose a wide range of environmental and ecological threats beyond those of conventional salmon (Naylor et al. 2005) grown in farms (Krkosek et al. 2007) and ocean pens (Vester and Timme 2010). Larger fish at a given age or season may out-compete wild salmon, potentially reducing individual or population growth rates. Predator-prey dynamics could be disrupted both through lethal and nonlethal means. The larger-at-age engineered salmon are likely to be more effective predators. Importantly, even in the absence of lethal effects, the mere presence of larger fish predators has been shown to alter prey behavior, causing trophic cascades in marine systems that can dramatically alter seafloor structure. Such ecosystem alterations could potentially have unanticipated repercussions throughout the food web."
Will GMOs help to make it easier to feed the growing population of the world? Despite common misconception, the world already produces enough food to feed everyone. There are three problems that are actually the cause of food shortages:
Waste: Massive amounts of food produced in the world is simply wasted or lost. According to the FAO, it is almost ⅓ of the food produced. GMOs won't fix that.
Distribution and technology: According to the FAO, "In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste." GMOs won't fix this, either.
Climate change: Also from the FAO, "Climate change is causing a rapid shift in climate and a loss of farmland. This will pose the greatest threat to food production and issues in the coming decades." GMOs can't fix climate change.
GMO seeds and crops have not truly lived up to even one of their promises and claims.
It is Rooted Nutrition’s position that GMO crops are simply not a benefit to society or the food supply and they do not improve the nutritional status of the world or help to reduce world hunger. They have also caused the prices of seeds to increase massively, making it harder for family farms to get by. At this point, all they are doing is making a few corporations very wealthy. Until the benefits can be proven in true, independent research- not corporately funded research- they should not be allowed into the food supply, especially with the proven dangers to the environment with things such as GMO salmon.
You can grab your torches & pitchforks now.